Pimientos the Usual Way, from Laurie Colwin
Open Road staffered gathered to make dishes from Laurie Colwin's classic Home Cooking.
Several of our staffers gathered in Brooklyn to try their hand at making dishes from Laurie Colwin’s classic Home Cooking. The “chefs,” seasoned and novice alike, will be sharing their experiences every Monday on the Open Road Media blog.
As a non-cook, my lifelong strategy has been to surround myself with people who like to make food. This worked relatively well when I was young: My mother enjoyed cooking, and my sister became a professional chef. But after leaving home, where feeding me was the law, I had to limit my residences to places with high walking scores—a real-estate rating of how close an apartment is to a commercial area. It ensured that, at the very least, I had access to delis and a 24-hour slice shop wherever I lived.
Working at Open Road, I continued to hone my ability to spot people who could supply me with food. Naturally, I became friends with Mary McAveney, who runs marketing for cookbooks. What I didn’t realize at the time was that Mary had the opposite skill: She could recognize non-cooks from a mile away.
Last month, while I was looking up instructions on how to make tea, she cornered me in our office kitchen. “I’m working on a cookbook by Laurie Colwin,” she said. “And we’re asking inexperienced cooks to try her recipes. They’re really easy.”
All I had to do, she continued, was pick a recipe. They would supply ingredients, a kitchen, and unlimited expert advice.
The “really easy” part turned out not to be entirely true: The first recipe I selected—chicken salad—required me to poach chickens the night before to a state “that is tender and almost custardy” in water that “must not boil but smile.”
This might not be possible, we reasoned, for a person who didn’t own a pot.
The day before I was due at Mary’s kitchen, I picked another recipe. Recipe is actually an incorrect description for what I chose, since Laurie Colwin’s cookbook reads more like a story with a few vegetables tossed in as secondary characters. Any reference to measurements presumes the reader has a far better imagination than me.
Cut the zucchinis not too thin and not too thick. (Easy!)
Make an enormous pile. (Of course!)
This will feed 150, some of whom are children. (Naturally!)
I called my sister for encouragement. “Don’t worry,” she said. “The most important thing is that you read the recipe all the way through.”
At the appointed hour, I arrived at Mary’s home, which already smelled like the incredible beef stew she had whipped up seemingly without any of the concerns I had.
From the chapter titled Red Peppers, I read the recipe for Zucchini Salad for the first time.
Step One: Prepare the pimientos the usual way.
I’d gone from a two-day chicken salad (with results Laurie promised to be ambrosial), to something I’d only seen inside of an olive.
It became clear to me that the reason Laurie writes like this is because her light tone disguises all of the cooking you’ll actually be doing. This is a problem because when you try to prove to someone that you’ve just been hiding your culinary talent all along by presenting, say, a zucchini salad, they’ll look at the recipe and pronounce “Oh, it couldn’t have been that hard! This is just a few sentences.”
I started by roasting red peppers (also known as pimientos) and frying individual zucchini slices. I sprinkled finely chopped garlic on top for flavor, even though it had to be removed before serving. Then I tossed the mixture with olive oil—which I had to pour through a sieve!—and lemon juice.
When I finally plated the now-cold salad, I looked back at Laurie’s recipe, which promised I’d made “one of the nicest things you will ever eat, and it is good for you, too.”
And you know what? It was delicious.